Europe proactively harming refugees, conference told
Influx of two million into population of 500 million not a crisis, says head of Oxfam Ireland
Chief executive of Oxfam Ireland Jim Clarken was speaking in Dublin on Thursday at a meeting that drew delegates from across the continent. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Europe is “proactively doing harm” to those fleeing the Syrian conflict and other refugees through its border controls, the head of Oxfam Ireland has told a conference on the refugee crisis in Dublin.
The meeting on Thursday drew delegates from across the continent and featured a list of speakers which included representatives from the European Commission, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Department of Justice.
It was jointly organised by the Economic and Social Research Institute and the Irish division of the European Migration Network.
In his speech, Oxfam’s Jim Clarken maligned what he termed the “Fortress Europe” mentality amid the influx of ever-greater numbers of asylum seekers to EU member states.
“Europe is failing to uphold international law. It’s proactively doing harm to vulnerable people, and it is coming up with a whole range of policies as part of this ‘Fortress Europe’,” he said.
He continued: “Let’s remember that one or two million coming into a population of 500 million of the wealthiest people on the planet is not a crisis. I think the way Europe has handled it is where the crisis lies.
“Basically, the idea that you can close borders and stop people coming who are desperate, who have to get on that boat, is nonsensical, and I think they’ll just find more desperate and more dangerous ways.”
Mr Clarken spoke of the world’s horror at the events currently unfolding in eastern Aleppo, where government forces have been accused of indiscriminately attacking civilians as they attempt to flush out the last of the rebels.
He also paid tribute to members of the Irish Naval Service who have rescued an estimated 15,000 people from the Mediterranean during tours of duty there.
“We should be very proud of their achievements and I am delighted that they are being recognised with the awarding of the new Defence Forces International Service awards,” he said.
About a million people are claiming asylum across the EU each year as desperate asylum seekers travel to Greece, Italy and the Balkans in an attempt to flee violence and persecution in their homelands.
Irish man Stephen Ryan from the asylum unit of the European Commission’s Migration and Home Affairs directorate told the audience that EU member states’ asylum systems are “among the most protective and generous” in the world.
He did add, however, that the refugee crisis of recent years has exposed “structural weaknesses” in the way the EU deals with asylum seekers, and said it is looking to address these “very fundamental problems” through amendments to the Dublin Regulation which governs policy in the area.